Is there a perfect Hari Raya?
Definitely not during a pandemic.
Though we are only about a week into a month’s celebration of Hari Raya, it feels like it has somewhat ended, no thanks to COVID-19. But what’s important is that we stay healthy and well.
With the latest COVID-19 advisories, truth be told, my family and I are a little saddened. Every year on Hari Raya, my family would get together, share some of our favourite foods and just bask in the Raya vibes.
The last two Hari Raya have been vastly different. 2020 was the first Hari Raya that we were confined in our homes and digital screens. But the silver lining is, it made me appreciate the little things even more like sitting in a crowded house donned in baju kurung amidst laughing Makciks (aunties) and children running about with kuehs in their hands.
This year, on the first day of Hari Raya, we visited the most important person in our family – our grandmother, Nenek Ninah.
To jog her memory, I would start the visit with “Nenek, kenal tak sape ni?” (Grandma, do you know who I am?). It takes her a while to recognise me, but she did. Dementia hasn’t been kind to her. Sometimes, she doesn’t remember a face but she would recall a song or a poem she used to love. She’s cute in that sense.
I whipped out my phone to show her a photo of my grandparents. Sadly, she couldn’t recognise her late husband, Tok Kanek. “Sape tu?” (who’s that?"), she said. That’s Tok Kanek, I said. She nodded bemusedly.
Hari Raya on Pulau Semakau was a much simpler affair, but it embodied a strong spirit of gotong-royong. I was told that it was a time when the islanders would come together to make traditional Malay kuehs like Kueh Bahulu and Kueh Bakar. Instead of the many different dishes that we have during Hari Raya now, chicken curry and ketupat were the staples. It was also one of the few times of the year that meat was consumed.
During this period, my mother, together with my aunt, Mak Ani would make their way to Geylang Serai from Pulau Semakau. They would leave home in the morning and took a very specific route – a sampan ride to West Coast park and a direct bus from Pasir Panjang to Geylang Serai. Their mission was to buy traditional Hari Raya garments for their siblings.
Today, Hari Raya is celebrated differently. But one thing remains – the labour and love in our cooking by the two guardians of our kitchen, Mak Ani and Mak Noni. In spite of the dampening news that COVID-19 brought us, on the eve of Hari Raya last week, my kitchen was fully functioning for more than 12 hours. All to share a Hari Raya meal with our grandmother. While eating, I asked “Sedap tak nenek?”, (is it delicious, grandma?"). “Sedap” (delicious), she replied as she took another bite of the ketupat and beef rendang.
It wasn’t a perfect Hari Raya, but it was a perfect day.
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Firdaus & family